Sunday, November 18, 2007

Catching up is hard to do

Daniel Altman at Managing Globalization posits that China is learning the lessons of 20th century US economic history at the accelerated ratio of about 1 year per US decade.

...China seems to be rolling up the welcome mat a bit in several high-value ndustries, perhaps as an economically questionable preparation for a freer currency or a slackening of growth. The United States suffered the drawbacks of that approach many decades ago. If China is going through the same learning process now, you could argue that it’s traveling through economic time about 10 to 20 times more quickly. In the past year, the Chinese had the product safety scandals of the 1900s and 1910s. Next year, perhaps, they’ll experience the protectionism of the 1920s. Will a securities regulator and a social security program arrive in 2009, after a crash in an overvalued stock market?

If they can land a man on mars in 6 or 7 years, then I'll agree that we will all soon be speaking Mandarin. But there is an awful lot that will need to go right for the Chinese as they confront the scenarios outlined above. It was not foreordained that the US would emerge leaner, stronger and economically healthier either from the depression era or the 1970s. An awful lot had to go right.

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